London’s property guardians being ‘exploited’

By Bill Tanner/ 24DASH

Over 200 empty public buildings across London are lived in by ‘property guardians’

Figures from borough councils, obtained by Green Party housing spokesperson and candidate for mayor of Hackney, Samir Jeraj, show that across London, over 1,000 people are being charged to live in precarious conditions in empty public buildings owned by councils.

In contrast, the mayor of London has told Green assembly member, Sian Berry, that City Hall avoids these arrangements, with no GLA Group empty properties (including those owned by the Met Police, London Fire Brigade and Transport for London) housing any guardians this year.

Samir Jeraj, who is also a housing journalist and campaigner, says: “Even the better of the property guardian companies have their tenants on very short term contracts with fewer rights, and treat them as essentially unpaid security guards. With the worst companies, the overcrowding and rents charged amount to straight-up exploitation.

“Councils should not become second-class landlords by allowing their properties to be used to exploit people let down by the housing crisis. Property guardians should be treated like any other tenant, with proper health and safety rules, notice periods and protection from exploitation.”

The data released today show that up to 20 people per property are being charged to live in council-owned buildings, far more than would be needed to provide a simple presence to deter squatting.

Most councils enter into zero-fee contracts, and across London in 2016 have released data to show they have paid property guardian companies just £24,500 in total. It is the people paying to live in the buildings who provide profits for the companies.

Sian Berry AM says: “Councils should look at more creative uses for public buildings. Community and cultural organisations are crying out for short term spaces for their projects, and would happily take care of these buildings at no cost. The many people forming new co-operative housing groups could also make much better use of temporarily empty buildings while they search for permanent homes.”

Property guardian companies have been accused of taking advantage of the lack of affordable homes to charge people nearly market levels of rent to live in often sub-standard, unregulated properties. Used in place of conventional security guards, the growth of the property guardian phenomenon has caused concern among campaigners.

There have been moves to make a change in the law to better protect people and to classify the fees charged as rent. Sian Berry asked the mayor in July to call for clarification of the law to allow buildings used by property guardian companies to be classified as Houses of Multiple Occupation and allow minimum standards of health and safety to be enforced.